This was originally published on Medium in June, 2014.
Mental illness is a fucking drag. You can spend months in treatment, learn all the peculiarities of your mind, get to a relatively stable place, and still have to, on a very basic level, in what should be the safety of your own thoughts, have to question what is real — every day — and what is not.
In my case, overstimulation forces me into a fight-or-flight mode, causing me to alternately shut down or explode in environments where, for all purposes, I should be enjoying myself. This includes loud family gatherings (sorry Becky!), the gym, classrooms, and so on. My doctors have me working on situational awareness, but once I’ve locked up, the anger or anxiety feels entirely genuine, no matter how random it actually is.
Another side of my particular problem is OCD. Portrayals of OCD in TV shows like Monk focus on the compulsions (hand-washing, counting, checking things) and largely ignore the obsessive thoughts. For a primer on that, it’s basically where thoughts, sometimes as harmless as a word or phrase, but frequently violent or sexual, will repeatedly invade your brain. Growing up with this, at least for me, meant struggling to trust my own thoughts and feelings.
And so. Step into this mind and live in it through puberty. Cut that. Step into this mind and live in it through puberty when your guidebook was written by Dr. Dobson. I mean really.
Basketball. 9th grade. Putting 14-year-olds into sports is probably a form of torture somewhere. “Hey kids! Everything about your body is changing, so go exhibit your physicality in a group of your peers!” All of a sudden, the physical intersects with the social for the very first time. Sure, like a lot of little kids I had various occasional crushes, but (while I’m not a psychologist) I’m pretty sure that’s just a form of mimicry. Becoming a teenager means entering an entirely new dimension of society.
For me, the rush of thoughts and emotions felt hardly different from my OCD. The basic defense mechanism I had built up was to mentally flee anything that reeked of repetition or obsession, so a true crush was nothing short of terrifying. Even to this day, I clam up at the first sign that I’m attracted to someone, which is pretty much the worst way to respond to that. My sexuality has withered under repression, bottled up inside like something that doesn’t belong, but won’t leave. Only in the past few months, armed with a newly empowered ability to discern between real and obsessive thoughts, have I felt confident enough to even begin to confront it and a core reality of it.
Basketball. 9th grade. My guidebook doesn’t say much about this, but it doesn’t seem good. I’ll lie awake nights trying my hardest not to think about him, but it’s little use. Feelings of attraction have moved rapidly from terrifying to, apparently, reprehensible. The years pass; I get the heck out of sports. While I don’t completely shun physical attraction, nothing much happens. Apparently clamming up isn’t a very effective way to build a friendship towards asking someone out. High-school ends, and once I’m in college, my mental illnesses rapidly overshadow any other problems I might have, the problems I was running away from. I’m not even going to lie and say that what happened this January was some sort of blessing in disguise, but it did slow me down enough to gain some clarity.
Opening up about my mental health was incredibly cathartic, but I’d like to think that sharing that story might prove helpful for people like me. Similarly, opening up about my sexuality (even just to myself) has been personally rewarding, but I’m not just doing it for me. It is past time for my colleagues in conservatism to accept the full spectrum of sexuality. Traditional marriage is a beautiful thing, worthy of protection, and it’s a shame to withhold the joy of family from those whose attractions don’t perfectly mirror yours.
So! There’s that. I could end this article there, but I do really want to hear from you all. LGBT people! What’s next? How can I better support the cause of people like me? Socially conservative buddies! Don’t hesitate to reach out.